'America's partisan divisions are so familiar it sometimes seems the fight never changes. But on the federal budget, the battlefield has been transformed.
Four years ago, when budget deficits topped $1 trillion, congressional Republicans turned their midterm election triumph into a spending-cut crusade. After forcing an initial springtime deal with Democrats, House Speaker John Boehner negotiated with President Obama on a "grand bargain" resembling recommendations from a bipartisan deficit reduction commission.
Those talks failed, leading to the first credit rating downgrade for the United States. Yet now, after another Republican sweep, the sense of budgetary crisis has vanished.
Luck, design and political bungling all helped make that happen. Whatever the cause, the effect is renewed bipartisan pressure for spending increases — on defense, education, infrastructure and benefits for America's beleaguered middle class...
To look at the government's bottom line now, you'd think the plan he recommended with Mr. Simpson had been enacted. Total spending for 2014 came in about $300 billion less than their plan called for.
The actual 2014 deficit, $483 billion, was slightly larger than the $455 billion Simpson-Bowles would have been expected to produce. That's because Congress didn't raise taxes nearly as much as the commission called for. Had lawmakers done so, Washington would have ended the year only $117 billion in the red — less than 1 percent of the economy...
The "fiscal cliff" tax-rate deal to increase rates on family incomes above $450,000 also played a role. So did the sequester cuts in defense and domestic spending.
Some leading Republicans consider those cuts unwise because they crimp investments in future economic growth. That's been clear since the House two years ago couldn't pass a housing and transportation bill because it spent too little — at which point Hal Rogers, appropriations committee chairman, called for abolishing the sequester. Though Congress didn't do that, Republicans and Democrats did agree to ease those cuts for 2014 and 2015.